Monday, November 17, 2008

The History and Science of Carpet

Okay, we admit it. Sometimes, people think carpet is boring. I know. It's shocking. But if you've read anything that we've ever written here at The Carpetology Blog, you know that we firmly and passionately disagree. We think carpet is fascinating, right down to its molecular structure. Which is what brings me here today. There's a whole science to Wear-Dated carpet that one just doesn't recognize when shopping in a typical flooring retail store. History helps put it into perspective.

In case you didn't realize, Solutia Inc. is Wear-Dated's parent company. Solutia, a spin-off of Monsanto (a name you probably recognize), is a performance materials and specialty chemicals company headquartered here in St. Louis. This is a fancy way of saying that the company uses science and technology to develop innovative solutions for customers. According to the company Web site, "Solutia creates performance materials that are used primarily in the automotive and architectural, transportation and industrial markets." One of these materials is Nylon 6,6.

Nylon? Like pantyhose, you ask? Actually, kind of.

Rayon, the first manmade fiber, was invented in the 1800s by Count Hilaire de Chardonnet, a French chemist who was trying to find a cheap substitute for silk. But the first truly synthetic fiber was patented by Dr. Wallace Hume Carothers, the “Father of Polymer Science,” in the early 1930s. He was part of an elite group of chemists hired by DuPont to explore the possibilities of polymer chemistry. This team also discovered polyester and neoprene, the first synthetic rubber.

In 1931 Carothers traveled to Washington DC to present a paper to the American Chemical Society. The paper was titled Fiber 6,6 – the first name of Nylon 6,6. Seven years later, the first commercial product made from Nylon 6,6 hit the market for consumers to buy - toothbrush bristles!

In 1939, nylon stockings were introduced at the World's Fair in New York (one of the largest of all time) and became a huge hit. They were far more affordable than silk, they conformed to the leg and they could be dyed unlimited colors. At this point in time, women actually fought over nylons, which they bought for $1 a pair. [Now, you'd have to fight me to make me wear a pair. Funny how times have changed, no?] Then during WWII, nylon became a luxury. It was rationed for military use and served as material for parachutes and artillery belts, a far cry from women's stockings. Talk about a multi-tasking material.

In 1953, after the war, Monsanto began manufacturing nylon as a way to diversify its business. Monsanto spun its chemical businesses off into Solutia in 1997, and Solutia still manufactures Nylon 6,6.

So that, in a nutshell, is the history of nylon. But the story doesn't end there...

There's an actual science to nylon that's especially important to us. You see, we specifically chose to manufacture Nylon 6,6 over other nylon chemistries for our carpet fiber which goes into residential as well as commercial carpet.

In terms of fiber manufacturing, Nylon begins at the oil well, where crude oil is used to make nylon intermediates. Out of nylon intermediates come hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid [also used as a food ingredient], two critical Nylon 6,6 building blocks that are transformed into nylon salt and then go into yarn manufacturing to emerge as either staple or bulked continued fiber [BCF] for carpet.

Our Pensacola plant makes primarily staple fibers, while our Greenwood, SC plan makes BCF fibers. [Check out our handy-dandy illustration for a more visual look at nylon manufacturing.]

Once manufactured, fiber goes to carpet mills to be spun into yarn, then tufted into carpet.

Did you know that the structure of the fiber itself is important to the final outcome of carpet made with Wear-Dated Nylon carpet fiber? And that Nylon 6,6 is better than nylon 6?

Here's why. Because its actual molecular structure is denser, Nylon 6,6 makes a harder and more resilient fiber, able to better withstand soil and dirt, prevent crushing, and offer more resistance and recovery. All reasons contributing to Nylon 6,6 being the carpet fiber most often specified by architects and designers for commercial installations. It's also why we refer to it as the durable fiber!

Below are a few terms to know when it comes to fiber technology...

Denier refers to the size of the fiber. There are two types - the size of the individual filament and the total size of a bundle of filaments (the fiber).
The Cross section is the shape of the individual filaments of the fiber (we're at a molecular level here). Many of our Wear-Dated and Ultron Nylon 6,6 carpet fibers feature a "mixed denier" cross section where we combine different cross sections to give our fiber the most natural-like luster in the marketplace, and get as close to wool as we can.

Our carpet fibers have a trilobal shape - a three-sided shape with a smooth surface and no grooves to attract soil. In fact, the trilobal shape itself actually aids in hiding soil [the first nylon fibers had a round cross-section and tended to draw attention to soil].

The luster of a fiber refers to the brightness of the fiber. Fiber manufacturers make a wide range of lusters ranging from bright (for residential applications), all the way to dull (for commercial applications).

Solutia manufactures Nylon 6,6 fiber in a variety of denier sizes. Carpet mills use denier as one of the tools to help them provide you, the consumer, with a wide array of color and styling options. This way, you can choose from carpet styles ranging from velvety soft cut pile to thick, nubby berbers.

Little did you know that when you're shopping for carpet, it's important to turn to science before you make a final decision.


Anonymous said...

I simply love carpets and I cannot tell you about the science stuff but I can surely tell you that I have a passion for carpets and I don’t think it is boring.

CB Whittemore said...

Ida, I love hearing about other people who love carpet. Thanks for adding your voice to The Carpetology Blog! I feel the same way.

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